Every conference I’ve been to in the past year… scratch that. Every conference I’ve EVER been to has had a major focus on measurement. There have been various measurement trends through the years, but recently I’ve seen some shifts that make me hopeful that corporations may actually make some progress in making and taking measurements that actually matter.

This will be the first in a series of blog posts exploring different aspects of measurement—including the importance of trust, motivation, compliance, shifting to business-based measurement, individual measurement, and measurement and its role in budget negotiations.

First up: let’s talk about the importance of trust.

Measurement Part I: Trust

Far be it for me to hold back on how I really feel about something. So, here goes:

Measuring training as a justification for training is an utter waste of time.

It’s like giving style points to the 50-yard dash. It may be interesting, but the only thing that matters is who crossed the finish line first. In other words, the performance or result mattered; the style in which it was achieved is barely noteworthy. Yet, when you measure training in and of itself, that’s exactly what is happening.

I think Charles H. Green hits it on the head with this quote from his blog:

“The ubiquity of measurement inexorably leads people to mistake the measures themselves for the things they were intended to measure.”

Why do we keep using measures instead of actual performance as justification to ourselves and our organizations? The answer to that question in many cases is rooted in why we are asked to measure training in the first place… that is, to prove that it has some kind of meaningful, measurable impact on the organization’s results.

Many of our organizations do not believe that training as it is currently defined has a positive impact. Or they do not trust that you or your immediate organization can execute learning in an impactful way. The requirement for measurement comes from a place of distrust—not from a defined need to measure results. Consequently, measurement is demanded to “prove” training works. Trust is not impacted or improved through this exercise, but regardless, time and effort is spent generating measurements that don’t really tell us anything about the business.

It is not my intent to write a primer on the effects of trust in business. I think Stephen M.R. Covey has done a good job with that in his book the Speed of Trust and the follow-up Smart Trust. The point is that a lack of trust affects our relationships and results in demands for measurements based on volume that are intended to justify the existence of training in an organization. It’s a closed loop with no obvious business value. That’s why old-school training departments are usually viewed as a cost centers, not as a strategic business partners.

So how do we as learning and performance improvement professionals earn trust and show that learning systems are effective and worthwhile without volume (i.e. number of butts in seats) or knowledge-based metrics?

Before we go there, we need to understand how measurement evolved to this state and also how the systems that we maintain perpetuate meaningless measurements. I’ll leave that for next blog post, so stay tuned.

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